And they’re off! Iraqi Kurdistan holds first cash-betting horse race
Published 13 February 2018
Professional horse racing is a relatively new sport in Iraq, yet it’s been increasingly popular since a horse club in Erbil, the capital city of Iraqi Kurdistan, began organising regular races in 2017. At the Erbil International Equestrian Club, established in December 2014 and the first of its kind in Iraqi Kurdistan, horse racing events have been held at its international standard racetrack since March 2017. While spectators could previously place bets for the chance to win prizes such as phones and refrigerators, on December 1, 2017, the club held the first professional racing event where cash could be won. Widely considered ‘haram’, forbidden under traditional Islamic law, betting has long been a controversial practice in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.
The club now hosts two races every month, as well as other events including show-jumping competitions. The club’s managers are confident that public interest in the events will continue to grow. “This is the first race on a professional track with cash betting,” explained Godar Ibrahim, the Club’s former Finance Manager. “They’ve been held in the countryside before but not officially. It gives us pride for Kurdistan to have such a professional place. The club doesn’t have a lot of income so we want to make some money and many people here love horses and want to get some profit from them.” The single largest bet placed at the December 1st event was $100. “He didn’t win in the betting, but he won a heater in the lottery,” said Ibrahim.
The September referendum on Kurdistan independence had an impact on the club’s activities, with some races cancelled due to doubts about whether the jockeys and horses could physically get to the club explained Ibrahim. They also had problems in getting their supply of horse feed, which is brought in from Baghdad.
A mix of Arabian and thoroughbreds, some of the race horses are owed by the club, others are privately owned and brought from all over Iraq to race.